Whistler Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Rama Rau, Director of HONEY BEE

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In Rama Rau’s Honey Bee, Natalie is an underage truck stop hooker working for a pimp who claims to love her, but regularly abuses She is stopped by authorities and sent to a home, actually a working farm, run by a tough love matriarch played with authority by Martha Plimpton. Natalie can’t stand the chores and the discipline, and runs away, eventually rejoining her pimp. Julia Sarah Stone is outstanding as Natalie. Director Rama Rau continues her feminist explorations of women with bad reputations, following up on her 2015 documentary on aging burlesque queens League of Exotic Dancers. Honey Bee is a moving and credible drama that points out the dead-end choices that many young women are given little option but to make. The film won AWFJ’s EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Feature at 2018 Whistler Film Festival.

Jennifer Merin: Please tell us what your film is about.

Rama Rau: Honey Bee is a tale of survival, as Natalie, an underage truck stop hooker trapped by her ruthless Romeo-pimp boyfriend, is transplanted into foster care with her new family in remote Northern Ontario, where she discovers there might be more to life than the hand she’s been dealt.

Still from HONEY BEE

JM: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

RR: When directing this film, I was very aware of how dark the material is. So I decided that one way of making it more palatable is to make it look almost like a documentary, a genre I’ve been working on these many years. So I decided to use a distinctive personal POV style where all that you see in the film is always from the point of view of our protagonist Natalie. We decided on a handheld, moving camera style to tell this story and stayed as authentic as possible to reality.

JM: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

RR: When I was offered this film to direct, by Sally Karam, the producer, I was at first intrigued. Then I researched a lot on the topic of human trafficking. Slowly, I got obsessed with it, which is when you know it’s a good story, when you can’t get it out of your head. What convinced me to make this film is that a documentary on this topic, with access into these girls’ lives would put them in jeopardy, as the pimps are very dangerous so making this film comes as close to a documentary as possible. The character of Natalie is displaced, wild, fierce and funny. She’s all that I look for in a main protagonist. And all my stories are about women displaced by the patriarchy, looking for and sometimes finding their voice.

JM: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

RR: I learnt that the world needs to do much more for women, for young girls. That we need to talk about these things more instead of closing our eyes and pretending they don’t exist. I learnt that we should never judge someone for the job they do, most people are in their jobs due to circumstance.

JM: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

RR: I learnt to work closely with actors on performance, I learnt to work with them and tell the story from the inside. I learnt that women directors work in a different way.

JM: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

RR: The biggest challenge was always the weather. We were shooting sometimes in -15 weather in Northern Ontario. There were times when it was rain-snowing and I could barely look at the monitor and my poor actors were frozen. But the entire crew and set of actors were amazingly brave and cooperative, everyone wanted to tell this story and tell it well.

JM: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

RR: Absolutely. I think women directors come at a story in a very different way than male directors. I always tell the crew at the beginning of a shoot that emotions are okay, it’s okay to cry, laugh and be vulnerable to what the story is telling you.

JM: What are your plans for the future?

RR: I plan to continue blurring the lines between documentary and drama. I plan to continue telling fierce stories about women who will not shut up and sit down. I will go after stories that move me and make me laugh, cry or shake the earth because we have to make up for all this time that we’ve been silenced, set aside and ignored.

JM: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

RR: I stand on the shoulders of many, many filmmakers. Claire Denis. The Dardenne Brothers. Satyajit Ray. Wong Kar Wai.

JM: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

RR: Never stop telling your story. Never allow them to tell you to shut up and sit down.

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